An Interview with Compression LA's Robert Pointer
Robert Pointer is part of a handful of Angelenos responsible for the city's techno renaissance. While the likes of the Droid Behavior crew were already organizing warehouse parties, Pointer's Compression events, starting in 2005, gave the city a legitimate, consistent, accessible venue for the rise of minimal techno. The parties, often held at Hollywood club King King, have showcased the Detroit techno originators (Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May) as well as the genre's new school leaders (Steve Bug, [a]pendics.shuffle and Radio Slave).
A longtime party organizer who has worked as the director of stateside marketing for Swedish dance-music software company Propllerhead, Pointer was a staple of the nu school break-beats scene - he promoted a night called Boombox and he DJ'd the style too - before moving into techno mid-decade. On September 19 he's expanding his techno empire to include a one-time, 12-hour event called Convention. Juan Atkins, Paco Osuna, Misstress Barbara, Stacey Pullen, Detroit Grand Pubahs and Egyptian Lover are on the bill. And on Friday, August 28, Compression hosts Switzerland's Agnes at King King. We recently caught up with Pointer, a.k.a. DJ Robtronik.
LA Weekly: You've been doing events such as Boom Box for how long?
Robert Pointer: I started Boom Box, my breaks club, in May of 2002. I began to look around in L.A. and I realized that I didn't much like what I saw -- mainstream electronic dance music. It was very hard, trancey and, to my sensibilities, [not] very funky. So I created the Robtronik alter ego, started Boom Box and specialized in break-beats (of the U.K., nu-school variety). That lasted a few years, and I had a great run booking everyone from Uberzone to The Crystal Method to Elite Force, Freq Nasty, Lee Coombs, etc.
Why did you switch from break-beats to techno?
It stopped progressing musically. Many of the releases during the time were bootlegs of popular songs ... less original material. I was having fun doing the "Community Service" radio show with [The Crystal Method's] Ken [Jordan] and Scott [Kirkland] at Indie 103.1 FM from around 2004 to about 2006, but I could tell that I was not feeling the music as much as when I first started. Those guys were getting all the hot promos, but I was finding myself reaching into my vinyl collection of the last 15 years for what we used just call "rave" or "techno" and really feeling those vibrant sounds and interesting productions.
I would also get frustrated with my own [Boom Box] nights. I would mix in a bit of progressive house or some banging techno and people just didn't want it. They only wanted to hear one type of beat structure. To me, it got very closed-minded -- and I'm not that type of person. I don't like to get trapped by others' expectations.
But then I went to Droid Behavior's three-year anniversary at the time -- and I was blown away by the crowd there. They were sticking around, listening to noise being played in a side room, and they didn't leave or complain. They were into the sonics of it all. And if it got danceable, they danced. And if it didn't - they just stopped dancing. But they listened and appreciated it. I realized then that the underground was alive and well. At that point I knew I wanted to create a club that catered to progressive and interesting sounds again. At that point it was techno.
I was essentially getting a chance to go back to my roots, and that's why the very first Compression had Juan Atkins as the headliner -- and John Tejada as the opener for him. It was about paying respect to the history of our culture and doing something that allowed me to break free from the break-beat persona that, to me, was always just a piece of the total DJ that I think I am.
Do you still get into the breaks?
Yes. I love playing my break-beat vinyl tracks. I'm still keeping an eye on the genre because I would love to pick back up on it when it becomes interesting again. Right now, however, a lot of the innovation is occurring in dub step. And though I like that sound, it's not something that gets me excited on the dance floor.
Was there any particular moment that told you techno was making a comeback in L.A?
I feel like the moment I knew L.A. had decided techno was the sound is probably when Avalon started to make it a central part of their booking policy [in 2007]. That's when I think it was apparent that the co-opting of what was formerly a strictly underground party movement with Droid and other crews had morphed into the Euro-centric mainstream of a super-club like Avalon.
[Also] my first Compression show with Tejada and Atkins [in November, 2005] was packed. I knew my instincts were right that you could take techno out of the downtown L.A. scene and make it mainstream in Hollywood if you presented it right. My take on it was to make it soulful, danceable, accessible, fun, welcoming and, most of all, appealing to women. I tried to market Compression as sexy club. It proved that it could be a successful clubbing experience in a mainstream environment.
You've done some underground events called Planetary Series. What's the idea behind these?
I partnered up with Developer, an experienced DJ and promoter here in L.A., to test some theories I had about doing undergrounds. It was a chance to shake up the formula. To be honest, I was missing being able to let techno just rip instead of only playing that softer, deeper, minimal side that techno has become known for these days. Planetary was meant to have some balls. I think we achieved that.
Tell me why you decided to go bigger with your 12-hour Convention event [at 613 Imperial St., downtown] on September 19?
I don't see much on the West Coast that gives us what DEMF [Movement: Detroit's Electronic Music Festival], Sonar, and Mutek give their respective areas. I personally think the West Coast could use a bit of those types of festivals -- with a dash of Miami Winter Music Conference thrown in for good measure -- in a way that's different than the massive "raves" we see with Electric Daisy Carnival and Monster Massive. I'm glad those exist, but its not my cup of tea. I've been heavily influenced by events worldwide and want a bit of that flavor for us here on the West Coast.
You've had some success finding fairly major sponsors for your events. Is there outside interest in this kind of music in the U.S?
Yes, and no. I started Compression with Microsoft and Napster as sponsors. That helped me get the club going, but the fact is that getting sponsors like they have in Europe with their events is still a ways off. It takes a bit of time, the right messaging, and experience selling the benefits of being tied into a genre of music that has been seen as not mainstream. Keep in mind that companies like Scion -- and certainly some alcohol companies - are stepping up.
What's next for you?
I'll be doing less events in total, but larger, more high-quality ones that focus on production, value, and a more immersed experience. Will it all be techno? Hell no. Will it have techno as part of the mix? Absolutely. To be honest, techno is starting to suffer from a bit of a lack of innovation and excitement. Its not dead, but my nose is starting to sniff the wind these days. So, keep your eyes peeled.
Compression, featuring Agnes, Robtronik and Luis Rosario, happens Friday, August 28, at King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 21+. Doors at 9:30. Discounts before 11 with RSVP. Info: compressionla.com.